Melting of Arctic Ice

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    In Context

    • Recently, a team of researchers has flagged the changing chemistry of the western region of the Arctic Ocean.

    More about the research

    • Research observations:
      • The research discovered that the acidity levels in Arctic seas are increasing three to four times faster than ocean waters elsewhere.
        • Seawater is normally alkaline, with a pH value of around 8.1.
      • The team also identified a strong correlation between the accelerated rate of melting ice and the rate of ocean acidification.
      • Reasons:
        • Scientists Point to sea-ice melt as the key mechanism to explain this rapid pH decrease, because it changes surface water in three primary ways:
          • The water under the sea ice, which had a deficit of carbon dioxide, now is exposed to the atmospheric carbon dioxide and can take it up freely.
          • The seawater mixed with meltwater is light and can’t mix easily into deeper waters, which means the carbon dioxide is concentrated at the surface.
          • The meltwater dilutes the carbonate ion concentration in the seawater, weakening its ability to neutralise the carbon dioxide into bicarbonate and rapidly decreasing ocean pH.
    • Data timeline:
      • It is the first analysis of Arctic acidification that includes data from 1994 to 2020.
    • Predictions:
      • Scientists have predicted that by 2050, Arctic sea ice in this region will no longer survive the increasingly warm summers.
      • Consequences:
        • The ocean’s chemistry will grow more acidic, creating life-threatening problems for the diverse population of sea creatures, plants and other living things that depend on a healthy ocean. 
          • Crabs, for example, live in a crusty shell built from the calcium carbonate prevalent in ocean water. 
          • Polar bears rely on healthy fish populations for food, fish and sea birds rely on plankton and plants, and seafood is a key element of many humans’ diets.

    Arctic Region 

    • Location:
      • It is commonly understood to refer to the region above the Arctic Circle, north of latitude 66° 34′ N, which includes the Arctic Ocean with the North Pole at its centre. 
    • Arctic Council:
      • Eight Arctic States-Canada, Kingdom of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and USA form the Arctic Council. 
    • Resources and inhabitants:
      • The Arctic is home to almost four million inhabitants, of which approximately one tenth are considered as indigenous people. 
      • The Arctic Ocean and its surrounding landmass has been a topic of immense interest and a high-priority area of research among the global scientific fraternity as well as of importance to policy makers. 
      • The Arctic influences atmospheric, oceanographic and biogeochemical cycles of the earth’s ecosystem.
      • Mineral Resources: 
        • The Arctic region has rich deposits of coal, gypsum and diamonds and also substantial reserves of zinc, lead, placer gold and quartz
        • Greenland alone possesses about a quarter of the world’s rare earth reserves
      • Hydrocarbons: 
        • The Arctic also contains a wealth of hydrocarbon resources. India is the third-largest energy-consuming country in the world. 
        • The Arctic can therefore potentially address India’s energy security needs.

    Arctic warming

    • The Arctic is heating up twice as fast as the rest of the world. 
    • Global warming, caused by greenhouse gas, is responsible for the decline in Arctic sea ice. 
    • Arctic amplification:
      • The phenomenon, known as Arctic amplification, occurs when the sea ice, which is white, thins or disappears, allowing dark ocean or land surfaces to absorb more heat from the sun and release that energy back into the atmosphere.

    Consequences of Arctic warming (on India)

    • Rising Sea Level: 
      • The Greenland ice sheet holds the second largest amount of ice, after Antarctica, and therefore it is crucial for maintaining the sea level
      • According to the World Meteorological Organization’s report, ‘State of Global Climate in 2021’, sea level along the Indian coast is rising faster than the global average rate. 
      • One of the primary reasons for this rise is the melting of sea ice in the polar regions, especially the Arctic. 
    • Global warming: 
      • The permafrost in the Arctic is thawing and in turn releasing carbon and methane which are among the major greenhouse gases responsible for global warming
    • Biodiversity: 
      • The warming of the Arctic Ocean and the seas in the region, the acidification of water, changes in the salinity levels, are impacting biodiversity, including the marine species and the dependent species. 
    • Connectivity: 
      • The Arctic’s ice meltdown and its geographical location will ensure the shortest sea distance between America, Europe and North East Asia. 
      • This will likely transform the global maritime commerce, presently conducted through the traditional East–West route through the Malacca Strait and Suez Canal.
    • Monsoons: 
      • The link between the impact of the changing Arctic and monsoons in India is growing in importance due to the extreme weather events the country faces, and the heavy reliance on rainfall for water and food security.
    • Geopolitics: 
      • The melting Arctic ice is also raising the geopolitical temperatures. 
      • In 2018, China’s White Paper on Arctic policy called itself a ‘Near-Arctic State’. 
        • The opening of the shipping routes and possibilities of increased resource extraction is leading to the big three—US, China and Russia—and NATO, jockeying for position and influence in the region.

    India’s Arctic Policy

    • In March 2022, Government of India released India’s Arctic Policy titled “India’s Arctic Policy: Building a Partnership for Sustainable Development”.
    • The six pillars of the Policy are as follows:
    • Implementing India’s Arctic policy will involve multiple stakeholders, including academia, the research community, business, and industry.

    Way Ahead

    • The problem is that we do not completely understand the factors that control how rapidly the ice flows and thus enters the ocean.
    • One way to approach the problem of not understanding the process is to study how sea level changed in the past. 
      • Earth  is nearly as warm now as it was during the last interglacial period, about 125,000 years ago
    • We must act urgently to reduce and mitigate the impact of human-made climate change on the glaciers.

    Source: TH